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Articles

Frustrated Managers At MTA Make Bid To Sign on With Union

MIKE CARRUBE: ‘Could really shake the apple tree.’

Posted: Monday, July 20, 2015 4:45 pm | Updated: 4:54 pm, Mon Jul 20, 2015.

By SARAH DORSEY

Now the managers are organizing—or at least they’re hoping to.

About 550 Metropolitan Transportation Authority managers, from Superintendents to General Managers, have submitted cards to the state Public Employment Relations Board requesting the right to form a union. That’s nearly half of the roughly 1,200 managers in three MTA divisions: New York City Transit, MTA Bus and the Manhattan and Bronx Surface Transit Operating Authority.

Seek Bargaining Rights

An Administrative Law Judge granted an Aug. 4 conference to gather evidence. It will likely lead to a hearing over whether to allow a union.

The employees, who wished to remain anonymous, have formed a non-profit called the United Transit Leadership Organization. They say they want the same collective-bargaining rights as hourly employees and supervisors, and they are frustrated that some supervisors earn more annually than those who manage them because the supervisors are entitled to overtime. Managers also pay $290 a month for the same health insurance that supervisors receive for $44, a UTLO spokesman and longtime manager said.

Under state law, at least 30 percent of workers must express interest before they can petition to form a union. The UTLO has far more votes than needed, but must convince PERB officials that they are managers in the colloquial sense only.

Legally, people with managerial duties—which include formulating policy, taking a major role in hiring and firing, and bargaining over contracts—cannot unionize in the state.

The UTLO spokesman said his members don’t fall into that category.

We Don’t Set Policy’

“At our level, we don’t set the policy; it would be the CMO—the Chief Maintenance Officer—or the CTO, the Chief Transportation Officer,” he said. “Or a Vice President. We enforce their policy. We can’t go ahead and create a policy because we’re not at liberty to do that.”

ALJ Elena Cacavas will consider those defenses. If the MTA and the employees agreed on all issues, permission could be given immediately to form a union, but another hearing is more likely.

The spokesman said members were also frustrated by pay disparities between managers with the same title who have identical duties.

“If you’re a supervisor now and get promoted to a managerial title, since you have gotten raises over the past eight years and we haven’t, [your] base pay is higher,” he said. “When they promote you, you come in higher than people who’ve been doing the title for 10 years.” The discrepancy can be as great as $15,000, he said.

The MTA said merely that the Authority has “always been a fair and responsible employer to everyone in these titles.”

Almost no management-level employees in the city are unionized, though there are exceptions. Decades ago, Chiefs in the Sanitation Department were allowed to form a bargaining unit, which still exists today.

‘Could Be Monumental’

But Subway Surface Supervisors Association President Mike Carrube, who contacted the managers and offered help in the early days when they were just beginning to talk about unionization, said he thought a win could spread to other city agencies.

“If we’re successful, it’s gonna be monumental. It’s gonna really shake the apple tree,” he said in a phone interview last week. “...If we do this in transit, the floodgates would open.”

The UTLO members credited Mr. Carrube with being “really very helpful” in getting their drive off the ground. If given the chance to unionize, they intend to form a local within the SSSA, the spokesman said.

Mr. Carrube, who took office at the 3,900-member supervisors’ union in March, has taken an activist approach, he said last week.

He slashed his own salary to $165,000 from the previous president’s income of roughly $277,000 to $324,000, he said, and lowered the other two top officers’ salaries by about $100,000 each. By cutting the salaries of office staff, he was able to hire more than double the employees, he said.

His organizing drive has gone beyond managers—along with the Transit Supervisors Organization, he has been working to organize nearly 300 Level II Maintenance Supervisors, who are one step up the ladder from his own members. Before 1985, they belonged to the SSSA, but during negotiations that year, they were excluded from the bargaining unit, Mr. Carrube said.

Salaries Near $100G

The UTLO spokesman acknowledged that some might be skeptical about his members organizing, since their pay is substantial. A quick review of MTA salary data from 2012 shows that the agency’s various superintendents and general superintendents earned nearly $100,000 a year on average. And they are among the lowest-paid titles in the manager group.

“Do we have decent salaries? Yeah, we have decent salaries,” the spokesman said. “But we’re really not getting a fair shake out of what we’re doing.”

UTLO members are seeking the right to pick more-flexible work schedules, including 10-hour, 4-day shifts. Along with regular pay raises, cost-of-living adjustments and compression raises, they want representation at all disciplinary hearings.